Impact on Global Trade: Red Sea and Panama Canal Concerns

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December 27, 2023

Impact on Global Trade: Red Sea and Panama Canal Concerns

Drought-Hit Panama Canal Lets More Unbooked Ships Pass


  • Recent events at critical shipping choke points, notably the Red Sea and the Panama Canal, have sparked concerns about potential disruptions to global trade. These incidents, including attacks in the Red Sea and issues at the Panama Canal, pose significant implications for over a third of global trade. Analyzing these events reveals potential repercussions, including their impact on India’s trade landscape.

Red Sea Attacks: Disruptions and Consequences

  • The Red Sea witnessed attacks on shipping vessels, notably the recent drone strike on the Chemical tanker MV Chem Pluto near Gujarat’s coast, raising tensions among Indian oil importers and exporters of key commodities like basmati and tea. These attacks, attributed to Yemen-based Houthi rebels protesting Israel’s military actions, have drawn swift responses from a US-led maritime security coalition, underscoring the route’s global trade significance.

Impact on Shipping Routes

  • Both the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal serve as vital arteries for global trade. Blockages or disruptions at these choke points compel shipping lines to seek alternative, longer routes, consequently elevating freight rates. The potential rerouting of Indian agricultural products through the Cape of Good Hope due to Red Sea disruptions could lead to price hikes ranging from 10 to 20 per cent, affecting global and Indian exporters amid heightened interest rates in the West.

Panama Canal Woes: Drought and Shipping Slowdown

  • The Panama Canal confronts a distinct challenge with a drastic drop of over 50% in shipping due to severe drought conditions, compelling vessels from Asia to the US to opt for the longer Suez Canal route. The drought’s persistence raises concerns about prolonged bottlenecks, prompting costly auctions for expedited transit. Concerns loom over a significant reduction in vessel transits and potential cessation in early 2024.

Impact on Oil Flows and Prices

  • Despite disruptions in global oil flows through the Red Sea, India’s oil imports from Russia have remained largely unaffected due to alternative routes utilized by Russian tankers. This resilience stems from Russia’s perceived alliance with Iran, aligning with the belief that Houthi rebels are backed by Tehran. While the Red Sea attacks have inflated benchmark crude prices, experts suggest limited direct impact on global oil production, tempering anticipated price hikes.

Freight Rates Surge and Economic Implications

  • As shipping firms respond to Red Sea security concerns, they impose additional war risk surcharges, potentially inflating freight rates by 25-30%, particularly impacting Indian exports to Europe and Africa. The European Union, a significant export destination for India, faces potential slowdowns, affecting labor-intensive sectors like textiles and gems.


  • Despite initiatives by the US-led coalition to address Red Sea security concerns and efforts to resume shipping operations, uncertainties persist, compelling shipping giants like Maersk to consider diversions based on evolving safety conditions. The combined challenges at the Red Sea and Panama Canal underscore the fragility of global trade routes and necessitate strategic measures to mitigate potential disruptions.
  • This overview highlights the interconnectedness of global trade and the cascading impacts of disruptions at critical shipping passages, signaling a challenging start to 2024 for the global economy and, notably, for India’s trade landscape.

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Impact on Global Trade: Red Sea and Panama Canal Concerns | Vaid ICS Institute